Beyond CONVENTION
L'OFFICIEL Singapore|October 2021
FOR THREE ATHLETES IN SINGAPORE – MMA FIGHTER RITU PHOGAT, RUGBY PLAYER EUNICE CHU, AND WEIGHTLIFTER JIE LING KOAY –THE FIGHT FOR EXCELLENCE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE FIELDS NEVER STOPS. THEY TALK US THROUGH THEIR EXPERIENCES THRIVING IN TRADITIONALLY MASCULINE SPACES, HOW THEY CHALLENGE THE NOTIONS OF FEMININITY, AND WHAT CONSTITUTES A STRONG WOMAN
MELISSA MAE

RITU PHOGAT

She is no stranger to traditionally masculine contact sports. Nicknamed “the Indian tigress”, the professional MMA fighter comes from an esteemed wrestling family, with father and legendary wrestling coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, who began training her in the sport since she was 8.

“My sisters paved the way for me,” says Phogat, who has five other sisters, all of whom are wrestlers. “What they did changed the game of women's wrestling in India and it started a revolution. For me, it was about following in their footsteps and proving the select people of society wrong once again.”

Growing up, Phogat – who is currently part of the Evolve Fight Team in Singapore – took the wrestling world by storm, clinching three Indian national championships, the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in Singapore, and the silver medal in the World Under-23 Wrestling Championships in Poland. Shortly after, the fighter decided to switch careers and establish her roots in mixed martial arts instead.

As someone who has committed her life to her sport, what are the sacrifices you have had to make?

I have made many. I think everyone has had to sacrifice something at some point in order to achieve their goals. These sacrifices are short-term. It also signifies the level of commitment you have. I have been away from my family for almost two years and it’s the longest I’ve ever been away. I missed my sister’s wedding, and have yet to meet my sister’s newborn baby.

Women in sports are often judged for their appearance and demeanour on top of their athletic ability.

What are your thoughts on this? In the ring or cage, the judges will judge you solely on your skills and your game. Fans will judge you as the person you are. Honestly, I don't think appearance should matter so much – it has never bothered me. People love you for the way you are because you are real, and I like to keep it real.

In your opinion, what constitutes a strong woman?

‘Strong’ should not be solely attributed to physical strength. It is the combination of your attitude, and emotional and mental strength. A strong woman is strong because she never shies away from a difficult situation and she is able to rise above adversity and overcome challenges. There are as many good days as there will be bad days. You just always have to keep moving.

JIE LING KOAY

For weightlifter Jie Ling Koay, strength training has become a vital form of exercise for her. As an athlete who occasionally competes professionally, the sport is something that rewards her with more than just physical strength and brazen musculature.

“Strength training is a big part of my training in the gym and it's something that truly makes me feel empowered and myself. It helped me become stronger mentally and physically over the years and prove to myself that I don't need to look a certain way or have abs to lift,” says Koay.

What motivated you to pick up weightlifting?

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